Fitness training for law enforcement

What is fitness?  According to Random House Webster's Dictionary, "fitness" is described as, "in good physical condition; healthy."  This isn't very specific, nor is it a helpful definition. I'm sure we all have our own idea of what fitness means. Let's try equating being fit as it relates to law enforcement.

Assume an officer does some form of working out. What is the "best" way to train? Should they follow a routine of long, slow, distance runs several times a week? Do they follow a typical weight training/bodybuilding routine? Or do they train both ways: weight training three times a week, and aerobic training 2-3 times a week?

Who is more fit? The officer who can run three miles may be able to catch the criminal, but because they only train aerobically, they have little strength to deal with a suspect. The weight training/bodybuilding officer may have the strength, but they cannot sprint 20 yards without gasping for air. So, the cross-trainer is more fit, right?


None of the above training methods will optimally prepare an officer to deal with a dynamic, highly-intensive and dangerous situation that we all have encountered. 

Law enforcement training vs. traditional training

There is nothing routine about police work, so why do we train our bodies to adapt to a traditional routine? We should train for short, intense encounters where our very survival may depend on quickly controlling/editing a confrontation. Workouts should be brief, but intense (anaerobic). Anaerobic training not only improves power, speed, and strength, but improves cardiovascular endurance as well.  

Components of fitness

Let's broaden our thinking on fitness. We must shy away from thinking fitness is only strength, power, or endurance. Crossfit, developed by Mr. Greg Glassman, not only includes strength, power, and endurance as components of fitness, but also includes flexibility, speed, coordination, stamina, agility, balance, and accuracy. Lacking development in any one of these areas is not only unfit, but may be life-threatening for officers.

We must train not to specialize in one area, but train randomly.  We must condition the body to adapt and perform well under many different and unknown conditions, keeping in mind the fitness components noted above.

It is extremely unfortunate that, for most officers, the only physical training required is that which takes place in the academy. Maintaining a training program is vital for a number of reasons, not the least of which is, on average, officers die at the age of 66. We have higher incidences of obesity/diabetes, elevated blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, and stress levels that build over the years. Physical training helps reduce/prevent these risk factors. We owe it to our families to live a long, functional life. And we owe it to our fellow officers, who may rely on us being in good physical shape to protect them. 

How to train

Any fitness regimen should include training our bodies to perform well in as many of the ten-listed Crossfit components mentioned above. Keep in mind the criminals we face don’t age, only we do. For the most part, the criminals we encounter are in their late teens-late twenties and in peak condition.

We must train to survive that one incident that may injure us, or be life-threatening. The best resource I’ve found is the workouts/lifestyle promoted on To date, I have found no better way to train for overall fitness that directly correlates to police work.

We are beginning to incorporate Crossfit-type workouts in our Academy training. Remember, our country has more gyms/spas than any country in the world, yet we remain the fattest country on earth. Our populations' incidences of diabetes, obesity, and congestive heart failure are skyrocketing, especially for police. We must train — not more frequently, but smarter, and in ways that directly correlate to the type of work we do.      

I recently attended a RedMan training program called Advanced Ground Defense Instructor held in London, Ohio. During the final practice of the testing phase this came to mind, 'We train hard to understand why, how and when use of force is applied, but we do not take into consideration the other factor on use of force — YOU!'

There may come a time when you know what to do, but you might not have the physical stamina, strength or endurance to actually do it.

Sample exercises:  Squats, deadlifts, standing presses. 1/4mile, ½ mile runs; 500m-2000m rowing; cycling. Bodyweight exercises (pull-ups, situps, pushups, bodyweight squats). 

Sample workouts:

    DAY 1:  (1/4mi run/10 pullups/15 situps/20squats) 4 sets
    DAY 2:  deadlifts (as heavy as possible, but with strict form) - 7sets/3
    DAY 3:  As many sets in 20 minutes as possible of:  5 pullups/10 pushups/15 squats)
    DAY 4:  REST

Combine the above exercises into as many different variations as possible because routine is the enemy. We are only as strong and fit as our weakest component.

About the author

Sgt. Paul Zagaria has been a member of the Cleveland, Ohio Police Department for 16 years, where he currently serves as the O.I.C. of the defensive tactics/physical conditioning program. In addition to his police career he is a former Marine, he has served in Basic Patrol, as a Patrol Supervisor, and as a member of the SWAT Unit.

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